GREEN BAY - The problem was focus. Not the lack of focus that you can fight with discipline, but the lack of focus that comes from a busy, stressed mind. Adderall is a prescription medicine used to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, helping people focus. It’s also a drug that is banned in the NFL, unless you get approval from the league.
Packers defensive lineman Mike Neal had a prescription for the medicine, but he lacked permission from the league.
“I was completely honest,” said Neal. “They asked me if I take it, I was like, 'yeah.' They asked me do I have a prescription for it, I told them, ‘yeah.’"
Neal is not alone. In recent weeks, more and more players have received suspensions from the NFL for testing positive for a banned substance. Many of those players, notably two players from Seattle, one from Tampa Bay and another from Washington either blame Adderall or reports have linked them to the drug.
Neal admits he didn’t follow NFL procedure, and for that, he took his medicine, so to speak, with a suspension. He doesn’t feel Adderall, however, is a drug that can help you on the field.
“I mean if you tell me you've seen a guy take Adderall and run a 40-yard dash faster, it don't do any of that,” said Neal. “As far as I'm concerned, performance enhancing drug, that's going a little over the board with it."
The NFL, for their part, claims the drug can aid players on the field. Prevea sports medicine Dr. Jeremy Metzler agrees, though sides with Neal, in saying it won’t make you faster or stronger.
“There's actually a couple studies that show in higher temperatures, your body doesn't get affected by the heat as much, so you can actually perform better at higher temperatures,” said Metzler. “There is a physical benefit as well as a psychological benefit with it."
Another question raised by the rash of Adderall-related suspensions: what are the players really testing positive for? The NFL does not release the specifics of what causes players to fail the drug tests. Players could, in theory, test positive for anything, then just claim they used Adderall to try and lessen the public relations hit.
“If they blame a positive drug test on Adderall, a type of drug many people use day to day to attack AHD, perhaps the stigma's not there among the general public,” said Miami-based sports and entertainment attorney Darren Heitner.
Neal was asked if players could lie, and claim they used Adderall when, in fact, they had tested positive for another substance.
“Could they do it, yeah,” said Neal. “But, honestly, ESPN can get their hands on whatever they want to, they know the truth about it. If guys say they tested positive for Adderall, something else, they can call them out on it, but I think some of those guys are telling the truth about it."
The NFL is pushing for more transparency in the process, hoping to be able to say exactly what a player tests positive for.
“We've pushed for that for a number of years because we think, not only does it insure that the information that is publicly disclosed is accurate... but I think it also has an important deterrent value,” said NFL senior vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch on a recent conference call. “Unfortunately, this is one of those cases in which the union doesn't share our view on that at this point. We're trying to work with them on that.”
Neal, for his part, has moved on from his suspension. He goes so far as to call the suspension a blessing, saying he’s playing the best football of his career right now.
“I can thank the NFL for suspending me, making me hungry and motivating me for something I didn't do,” said Neal.
Neal and the Packers host the Detroit Lions Sunday night. Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m.